Everything is Fine

     Is it just me or is that the universal answer to most every question you ask your children.  How was school today?  Fine.  How was your spelling test?  Fine.  How did your cub scout meeting go?  Fine.  According to my kids, their life was perfect, no problems, no issues, no struggles because everything was fine!  We all know the answer to everything is not fine, but how do we get our children to open up to us?  While I am certainly not an expert or child psychologist I do know what worked for my family.
     First, give them lots of opportunity to talk.  One of the first rules my husband & I established in our house was we must have family dinner time around our kitchen table.  Enjoying a good meal puts everyone in a good mood to begin with and being together in one place gave us ample time to talk about our day, how it went, if anything good or bad happened etc. We always started by asking the kids to tell us one thing that happened that day.  Another idea is to have a family game night.  Friday nights in our house often occurred around a table playing a game of some sort with a special snack and special treat, which for my kids at that time was a soda.  We played games and laughed so hard we often found ourselves in tears. We were most likely laughing at my husband who never took himself too seriously and was never afraid to make himself look foolish.  One of our favorite games was Kids versus Parents, which is a question & answer game.  My now 21+ year old kids can still tell you about the time their dad answered white when asked what were the colors of the Olympic rings.  Now my husband knew white wasn’t correct but in the spirit of fun & laughter that was his answer.  Things like that silly answer (white ring on a white flag) made for a fun atmosphere and also an atmosphere which was conducive to family conversation.  My last example of things I did is a controversial one I know.  Whenever we had a long trip, we didn’t allow movies, gaming consoles, iPods or anything else of the sort.  Yes, it made for a lot of stop touching me(s) and are we there yet(s) but what else was there to do but talk to each other.  I learned a lot about my kids and things they were doing and going through from those car conversations, and it didn’t just stop with the car rides.  Vacations were about family time, family fun and family talks so electronics were a no no.
     Secondly, understand your children’s developmental stages.  For example, younger children are very literal and struggle to understand concepts.  I learned this lesson with my one son who after I told him to take off his clothes and get in the tub proceeded to get in the bathtub with his socks and underwear on.  When I asked him why, he said I didn’t tell him to take those off.  Another time, he was selected to participate in a special academic program.  I gave him a disposable camera to take pictures of any new friends he met and fun stuff he did.  At the end of the time I asked  him if he took pictures and he told me yes.  I asked where his camera was and he told me he threw it away.  I asked him why he would do such a thing and he matter of factly told me “because you said it was disposable”.  All this is to say, know where your children are at emotionally and developmentally and talk to them accordingly.  If they are younger be specific in your questions and discussions.  As they grow older you can then make your conversations more conceptual and open-ended.
     Lastly, as Christian parents we must always point our kids to Jesus.  We must be open and honest with our children.  They need to know that we aren’t perfect and we have made mistakes and will make mistakes again but through God’s grace & mercy we are forgiven.  Let your children know & more importantly understand that they can talk to you about anything and that your home is a safe haven for them to do so.  This can be quite challenging for a parent, at least I know it was for me.  Toddler and elementary age conversations were not too tough, but those teenaged years can be a challenge.  God tells us in James 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”  I wish I could say I always remembered and followed this but that would be a lie.  When a teenager tells you something “shocking” that they did or are thinking of doing it is easy to speak first and think later.  I can’t tell you how often I have said things in reaction and wish that I had handled things differently later.  Rash reactions can cause our kids to resort to “fine” in future discussions.  We have to learn to reflect and always speak in love.  In James, chapter 1, he continues in verse 20 with “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  If we want our children to be open & honest with us we need to remember to give them opportunities for discussion.  We need to understand where they are at and carry on conversations with them accordingly and most importantly, we need to listen, reflect, respond in truth & love and always point our children to Jesus.
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